Tales from the Crypto at SXSW22

Doodles World

As the event goes back to Austin, post-pandemic, it seems like the tech industry missed the chance to show how to look outside its bubble.

This has not been my first rodeo at SXSW. Although on some occasions I have attended the festival aiming at the Music part of it, I have compromised to visit only for business purposes, and yes getting some top-notch Texas BBQ and hitting a honky-tonk at 6th, you know, just because we’re there.

Perhaps the high expectation of being the first post-pandemic in-person “South By” had led me to utter disappointment.

I have seen things in Austin that indeed had changed the world in the years ahead. I recall seeing the innovations IBM created for Watson first-hand. The real-life applications, the possibilities. Eye-opening, inspiring.

But in comparison to the last chance I had to attend the innovation part of the festival, I have found this year’s edition rather underwhelming.

Sure I and my friends from Advanced Mankind have not missed the chance to get some free merch and, of course, free booze. But in the midst of the well-designed booths, what I have seen was a lack of substance.

In fact, most of the time we were asking ourselves “what the hell did we just see?”, or “I’ve spent one hour in this place and still don’t know what this is about”.

Why? Well, because it is really hard to create a good consistent story behind the simple goal of “buy cryptocurrencies, flip for money”.

It becomes clear that even major media companies are feeling the Crypto FOMO. Fox Media and Time Warner made sure to have their presence at the festival. Again I am pretty sure they have no idea why they were there, or what they were proposing.

Fox Media, via its NFT studio Blockchain Creative Labs, has invited the attendants to its “studio” on the 5th for, in their words “a series of Web3 experiments, parties, decentralized discussions, and immersive installations”.

At the Blockchain Creative Labs. Not sure what that is. Probably the future? I hope not

I do appreciate these companies are investing in copywriting to try to make sense of all of this nonsense. And while feeling dumb might be an incentive to jump into the blockchain bandwagon, I still feel like the lack of substance is grotesque.

The guys at Doodles have turned a warehouse into an exhibition set of generative hand-drawn NFTs. While in Doodles World, you could get some free drinks, free noodles, get your nails designed while sitting around and questioning what is the point of the whole thing.

All supported by the suckers who waited in line to buy their expensive merch. Yikes. At least the noodles were good (and free).

I leave Austin, once again, but this time with the sense that the tech industry is shifting its vision more and more to within itself. I still feel optimistic about all the possibilities of solving complex issues this pandemic have left us with while getting more prepared for the next one or the next major global disruptions.

But the whole amount of energy and creativity put into these big scams is disheartening. What can we do to solve logistic problems? What solutions can we provide to solve the challenges in healthcare, urban mobility, gender, race, and income inequalities?

These things are real-world challenges, and we have never been more ready with data, hardware, and creativity to start solving these.

But while tech innovators put their efforts into getting rich while calling it “creating a community”, we’re going to miss these opportunities. And who knows how many we still have left.

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Thiago Motta França

Thiago Motta França

Human Behavior Critic, User Experience Designer